Originally intended to displace 500cc, the compact, water-cooled engine used in the Suter MMX 500 was stroked to 576cc to improve torque. Chosen for its narrow, lightweight design, the V-4 delivers a claimed 195 hp at 13,000 rpm. An Öhlins FGR fork and a complementary TTX shock offer external adjustments for compression and rebound damping, as well as spring preload. MotoGP-spec suspension, as well as carbon brakes, are available upon request. One of the first customers to take delivery of an MMX 500 was at the Lausitzring and explained why he is buying one. “I grew up with two-strokes,” he said. “My first bike as a youngster was a Suzuki RG250. Next came a Yamaha RD400, which I rode for 13 years. I guess you could say I’ve got two-strokes in my blood.”
I tasted blood on my tongue before I even realized what had happened. One minute the Suter MMX 500 felt as lame as a duck, its V-4 engine coughing and spluttering as if set to embarrassingly conk out along the back straight of Germany’s Lausitzring. The next the front wheel was launching skyward. Before I could react, the bike punched me in the face. There was no time to think. There was no avoiding it. There was, however, plenty of pain.
In the weeks building up to this once-in-a-lifetime test of the exact motorcycle on which Ian Lougher had clocked a 125-mph lap last year at the Isle of Man TT, I had been warned about the viciousness of two-stroke Grand Prix bikes and their temperamental, all-or-nothing nature. In an instant, those words had proven to be true. Lesson learned.
Weighing in at 280 pounds and packing a claimed 195 hp, the MMX is one of the liveliest bikes I’ve ever ridden. What began a few years ago as ex-GP rider Eskil Suter’s wildest dream was now very much alive and certainly kicking. It was a simple desire to build an exotic, high-performing two-stroke machine powered by a V-4 engine because, in Suter’s words, “It was always the most fun configuration.”
But the road to success wasn’t straightforward or easy. “We had a few crankcases kicking around from a 500cc V-4 design,” Suter said. “It was enough to get the ball rolling. Before long, we had an engine. Frames are what we do, so making a lightweight, CNC-milled, GP-spec frame for the bike was no problem. Things were starting to come together.
Fitted with OZ wheels, Öhlins suspension, and a custom-made Akrapovic exhaust, Suter’s prototype was almost ready. “The first engine was good,” he said, “but the power was too peaky. It was a crossroads in the project that saw us completely scrap all of our hard work and start again to build a 576cc V-4.” By anyone’s standards, it was a mammoth task. Nevertheless, there I was, about to ride Lougher’s racebike.
Two-stroke fumes filled my nostrils as Crew Chief Didier Langouet warmed the engine, the raw, harsh exhaust note seeming so alien. Suter hopped on the motorcycle and stormed down pit lane with a wrist full of revs, leaving a hazy cloud of blue smoke in his wake. Out of sight, the bike was never out of earshot, reappearing on the start straight with the most piercing of sounds.
Suter has lived a vibrant existence. After forming Suter Racing Technology in 1996, the Swiss mastermind built chassis for the MuZ GP bike, Petronas FP1, and Forward Racing’s BMW-powered MotoGP CRT machine. Add three manufacturer titles to that list of accolades, including the Moto2 championship won by Marc Marquez, and you begin to understand that Suter really is a big deal.
Tributes aside, the IoM TT presented a “massive learning curve” for his team, Suter admitted. “We learned more in two weeks than we could have done in four months of testing. We were so happy with Ian’s performance. We burned one crank seal, and there was a slight problem with gearbox oil and a broken reed valve. Apart from that, ‘The Beast’ just kept going. Crossing the finish line of the Senior TT was a real achievement.”
Like many people my age, I don’t have a lot of two-stroke road-bike experience. When I was 17, I rode a Kawasaki KR-1S. More than a decade later, my second-ever two-stroke ride was to be on a factory Grand Prix bike with arguably more performance than any such machine that came before it. I swung a leg over the narrow and tall carbon-fiber seat, raised a foot onto a towering rearset, and took a moment to digest my surroundings.
A large, dot-matrix 2-D dash was sunk behind the thick billet-aluminum steering head and swept-back clip-ons. Bulging with details, my eyes darted to every corner before scanning the cluster of buttons on the left bar. I didn’t have a clue what any of those buttons did, but a warning from the team highlighted the absence of ABS and traction/wheelie control.
With the paddock stand removed, a quick shove from behind had me rolling down pit lane. I dropped the clutch and the engine barked into life. Revs climbed effortlessly, causing the motor to burble and gurgle beneath me. Accelerating on to the track, the lightweight machine steered razor-sharp into the pit-lane exit bend, lining me up for the first series of corners.
I wound the throttle open but not much happened. Were the plugs fouled? Who knows, but the ride was jerky and hard work. I tried banging the six-speed gearbox down to first, but the power simply wasn’t there. The bike continued to slow, and I envisioned a long push back to the pits. Then, from nowhere, the engine burst to life, and the front wheel launched upward as if to signal the end of its ruse. Game on.
That first lap was rammed with unknowns, fear, and an equal dollop of excitement. The motor isn’t entirely devoid of engine braking, but, assisted by a dry slipper clutch, the bike felt pretty free as I worked my way from fifth to second lining up for a left/right flick. The pressure was almost entirely on the Brembo brakes to get the bike stopped, which proved to be not much of a challenge.
With each passing lap, I developed a greater appreciation for the MMX. It turned sharply, rock solidly held a line, and was still open to midcorner tweaks. Lean angles were also impressive, as was the level of feel through the stiff frame and Öhlins suspension. The bike felt so planted, even over the bumpiest sections of track, that I was confident to power faster into bends and trust that the bike would be able to deal with whatever was thrown at it. And it did.
As my cornering confidence grew, so too did my relationship with the motor. It took a while to grasp how important it was to keep the V-4 singing in its narrow-banded sweet spot marked on the dash by colored bits of gaffer tape. Keep the revs there and the motor would drive like an animal. There were times when the oomph felt like too much, causing the front wheel to rise uncontrollably and demanding the throttle be weaned off before more revs could be requested.
Keeping the motor on the boil before asking it to go banzai as lean angle decreased on corner exit was an art form that I most certainly didn’t master, but I began to acknowledge what was needed. On the few occasions I got my exits spot-on, the feeling was awesome. The 17-inch rear Dunlop slick had a limit and breaking traction was the sweetest sensation of all, even if it was only by the slightest of margins.
By the ninth lap, I was in my element—well and truly at home on the tiny and focused racebike, lapping up every second of the experience. Apexes became a doddle to nail, and wheelies out of corners were more predictable and manageable. Even the track’s downhill first corner, approached from nearly 170 mph, wasn’t as much of a challenge, quite unlike at the beginning of the test, at which point the rear end of the bike was wagging like a dog’s tail and I overshot the corner’s crucial tip-in point.
But that was now a distant memory. I’d reached a motorcycling mecca. Never before had a bike sounded so good or made me feel so alive. The MMX was as much a sensual experience as a physical one, which ended far too soon. With 12 laps already completed, I simply couldn’t ignore the angry-looking, clipboard-waving technician any longer.
Back in the pits, I reflected: This is a special motorcycle. Each example is hand built and assembled, so you don’t have to worry about the market becoming saturated with too many of them. That said, Suter is committed to building enough spares to keep customers happy well into the future. “With just 99 bikes,” he said, “there will be more exclusivity, which means that they will hold their value better than most machines.” Fat lip not included.